kansas city

PLACES: Church of the Resurrection Downtown

 

Church of the Resurrection Downtown

Church of the Resurrection Downtown

The last time I was in this building it was for a California Guitar Trio concert, a few years back. That was when this place was called Crosstown Station and although it has since become the home of the Church of the Resurrection Downtown, it maintains a lot of its concert hall atmosphere. As I made my way into the building, I recognized the repurposed drum light fixtures from before. The lights were dim, there was background music playing and people were mingling and shuffling in. I went up to the front, where I was to meet my friend Julie, who had so kindly invited me after I posted about how much I enjoyed reading Pastor Adam Hamilton’s latest book. This church, it turns out, is the downtown campus of the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, which is lead by Pastor Hamilton.

“Service begins in 11:32,” read the notice at the top of the screen as I walked down the aisle. I’ve been to a lot of churches in my time, but never one where there was a countdown to service. It was kind of exciting, I must admit. There were announcements projected on rotation, mission trips, social events, church programs and a reminder to mute phones. My friend arrived a few minutes later, somewhere around “Service begins in 5:27.” We sat down and within a couple of minutes a group of musicians started taking their place on stage. As soon as the countdown reached 0:00, the band kicked off the service.

Look at this awesome drum light fixture. The church left a lot of the decor and features from the previous tenant.

Look at this awesome drum light fixture. The church left a lot of the decor and features from the previous tenant.

This is a church with a decidedly urban bent. The music, the lighting, the ambiance and the screen’s background images of Kansas City skylines all emphasize the Downtownness of this church. The music was good, and even though I was unfamiliar with the songs, it was easy to sing along with the words projected on the screen. Soon enough the music came to a stop and Pastor Scott Chrostek took the stage to welcome churchgoers and give a few announcements. As he spoke, the screen behind him projected his name and his Twitter handle, @scottchrostek. I’d never seen this before, but of course my most recent experience of Church has been the technology-free liturgy of High Church Episcopalian mass. This integration of online and offline Church community was not as off-putting as I may have imagined; it actually seemed quite seamless.

There was more music, songs with very relatable and affirming words, “I’ve been set free from the chains and rules I have made…” And then came the time for the sermon, which on this particular Sunday was delivered by Pastor Todd Maberry (@toddmaberry, as per the projection behind him). As he addressed the congregation, Pastor Maberry remarked on how it never ceases to amaze him that people come back to church, week after week. I looked around and I couldn’t find an empty chair in the room. “Why do people go to church?” He asked. “Could it be because we are looking for answers?” He pondered. We’re trying to answer questions about God – who is God, what is the purpose of my life? And so, he concluded, “Church is a place where we engage questions.”

"Service begins in..."

“Service begins in…”

The sermon was based on the Bible story found in Genesis 12:1-3, where God speaks to Abram and commands him to leave his country and his people for the land he will be shown. The sermon included the story in which Abram had his wife Sarai pass as his sister, so he could be spared death and find favor with Pharaoh. I remembered this story, having just read the Bible a week before, and I wondered how the preacher would handle the fact that Sarai then became part of Pharaoh’s harem. It was a difficult passage and Pastor Maberry made no bones about it, “There are lots of crazy stories in the Bible…sometimes these stories appear to mimic the Jerry Springer Show!” There was laughter and then he went on to talk about how following after God means leaving behind the familiar and how it is that we tend to treat the worst those whom we should love the most. I was moved by the sermon and I appreciated the pastor’s honest take on a difficult passage of Scripture.

I really got the sense that this Church embraced all who walked through their doors. Communion at Resurrection Downtown is available to all. And while all were invited to partake (they even have gluten-free wafers for those who need them), there was no obligation to do so. I always appreciate being invited to a place of worship; it’s a good feeling to know you know someone there. And yet, I’m fairly certain I would’ve been quite comfortable to just walk in uninvited. Everyone I saw seemed to be happy to be there and happy to welcome newcomers. As high-energy music brought the service to a close, I was reminded of the previous life of this building and I thought to myself that if the Crosstown Station had to go, Resurrection Downtown actually seems like a pretty good way to resurrect that space.

The Band

The Band

Check it out for yourself!

Resurrection Downtown‘s weekly worship services are Saturdays at 5:10 pm and Sundays at 9:00 am, 10:45 am and 5:00 pm at 1522 McGee. Services are family friendly and dress is casual. All are welcome.

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PEOPLE: Seekers

“I wasn’t raised Buddhist, and I don’t think any of our members at the Rime Center were either,” says Lama Chuck Stanford. The fact that so many Buddhists in the United States are converts is something that has fascinated me for the past few years. When I ask him what he thinks Americans find so appealing about Buddhism, why it is that every Sunday there are so many first time visitors at the Rime Center, he doesn’t hesitate to answer. “My theory is that they’re spiritual seekers. If you’re Christian and you’re looking for a church, it’s not a matter of Christianity or not. You’re Christian, so it’s just a matter of which church you’re going to go to. But if you don’t know what you are and you’re looking for something, you come to a Buddhist center to try it out and see if it’s the right fit or not. Most people visiting the Rime Center are probably not Buddhists, they’re what I call spiritual seekers, trying something out to see if it resonates with them.”

Like so many of the people at the Rime Center, Lama Chuck came to Buddhism as a seeker. He tells me a story so many others have shared with me, about growing up with parents who weren’t particularly religious but were consistent about Church attendance. He tells me about how when he was a teenager, the faith he’d been brought up in no longer spoke to him, about how he lost interest and stopped going. And then he tells me about this spiritual void he felt after a few years and how he began seeking ways to satisfy that yearning. “I tried different faiths. I remember going to a Quaker meeting and I kind of liked that, because they just sit in silence and if someone feels like speaking they stand up and speak.” I begin to wonder if stillness and quietude are part of the draw of Buddhism. We’re all well-aware of the ever-growing demands for our attention and the overstimulation that engulf our day-to-day lives. And, while most religious traditions have a strong contemplative element, the trend for Christian churches in America has been to emphasize the use of technology, multimedia and high energy music in services. This is not a bad thing at all, unless what you’re desperate for is a bit of peace and quiet.

Lama Chuck Stanford

Lama Chuck Stanford

Some time after that Quaker meeting, Lama Chuck and his wife Mary started practicing yoga. He tells me that one day after yoga, he went up to a different room in the building to have a look, “and they had what we would call a shrine room, all these meditation cushions and a shrine set up. I asked what was going on there, and I was told that was where these Buddhists met. We had been meditating since the 70s, that was something I was really familiar with, I knew meditation. And, because I felt a spiritual void, I thought I’d start attending and finding out more about this. And so the more I studied, and the more I learned, the more I found the Buddhist worldview really fit with my worldview and I just continued down that path.”

Lama Chuck and Mary started practicing with this Buddhist group, but soon enough it became evident that the group’s views were a bit more sectarian than he would’ve liked. “So I thought, you know, there’s probably room for a non-sectarian group,” he tells me. And that’s how in 1985, he and his wife leased a class room from the Roeland Park Community Center and the Rime Center was born. Week after week, he would load up his car with some extra cushions they owned, they would set up a portable shrine and the group had a small but steady attendance for a couple of years. As the group grew, they went through a few facilities. They started inviting visiting teachers and offering educational programs. And then, in 1997, Kusum Lingpa, one of Lama Chuck’s Tibetan teachers told him he wanted to ordain him a Lama. “It was totally out of the blue. I hadn’t ever considered that as a possibility and I told him I would need to think about it. He said, ‘I’ll be back in one year and I’ll want your answer.'” At the end of that year, having thought about it and feeling prepared, he was ordained a Lama.

The way one officially becomes a Buddhist is by taking Refuge Vows. One of the things that happens as a result of taking vows is that practitioners are given a Dharma name. I remember the first time I met Lama Chuck, and I remember finding the juxtaposition of an eastern title and a (very) western name a little jarring. And then I learned that his actual Dharma name is Lama Changchup Kunchok Dorje and it all made sense. Most of us would probably rather say Lama Chuck than attemp (and fail) to say his Tibetan name. So he encourages people to simply call him Lama Chuck, and this is so characteristic of his vision for the Rime Center, which he strives to make as welcoming and accessible a place as possible. Sunday Services are unlike any other Buddhist experience you will find. He tells me that the order of service is very carefully designed to feel familiar and comfortable to newcomers. While most Buddhist groups simply sit and meditate in silence for extended periods of time, at the Rime Center there is a liturgy of sorts. Mantras are set to music so congregants can sing along, meditation is broken up into three ten minute sessions, and toward the end of the service there is always a Dharma talk. He tells me that the service is arbitrarily put together and that it includes Western elements, but that it remains faithful to Tibetan Buddhist practice.

I press Lama Chuck a bit further; I want to know why there are always new visitors at the Rime Center. I want to know how a non-dualistic, Eastern religion can be so appealing to our Western, materialistic and dualistic sensibilities. He pauses for a moment and says, “A lot of people are wounded, perhaps as the result of a divorce or any other painful experience. They’re suffering because of a break up, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, there is pain. They come seeking solace, and Buddhism is relatively free of dogma.”

The Buddha’s first teaching, the Four Noble Truths, begins with an acknowledgment of suffering. It is a truth as old as time. I’m finally beginning to get it. Yes, people are seeking quiet and solace, but what we are seeking the most is to be happy and free from suffering. And so, Lama Chuck tells me, “We believe that it’s through meditation that we cut the clinging and grasping that are the source of our suffering.”

PLACES: Rime Buddhist Center

RimeCenter

The entrance to the Rime Center

This past Sunday morning I attended the service at the Rime Buddhist Center (Rime is pronounced ree-may). I should say, however, that this was not my first visit. In fact, the Rime Center has been my spiritual home for nearly three years. Over the next few months I will visit a great number of houses of worship and prayer, sacred spaces and places from a wide array of religious traditions. It seemed fitting that my journey should begin from home.

Nestled in the shade of the elevated section of I-35, in the western edge of the Crossroads Arts District, the Rime Center finds its home in a hundred-year-old church. On any given Sunday morning, you will find people of all ages walking up the steep stairs for the 10:30 service. The Rime Center offers a full schedule of classes, noontime meditation, and other practices throughout the week; but Sunday mornings draw the biggest attendance.

Upon walking through the main doors, an altar with dozens of votive candles, incense and a photograph of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama welcomes attendees. The Rime Center is a non-sectarian Buddhist community in the Tibetan tradition, of which the Dalai Lama is the highest-ranking teacher and spiritual leader. As you make your way down the foyer, you will see shoes neatly shelved and arranged off to the side on the floor. This will be your cue to remove your own shoes and add them to the collection. Don’t worry, you’ll get them back!

As you come into what would’ve been the nave of the church, you will find yourself in the main shrine room. This is a big, open space with rows of cushions tidily arranged on the floor. There are also chairs lined along the sides and the back for those who prefer them for comfort or health reasons. The shrine is at the front. It houses photographs of His Holiness as well as other prominent teachers; there are sacred texts, offerings of water, rice, flowers and incense. The centerpiece is a gilded statue of the Buddha. A few feet below and in front of the Buddha is the teacher’s seat, slightly elevated off the floor.

At the soundĀ of drums and horns, the congregation stands. Lama Chuck Stanford (the center’s spiritual director), followed by two preceptors, walks in from the back of the room toward the shrine. Following prostrations and lighting of incense, he sits and then everyone else sits. The service begins with a few minutes of silent, centering meditation. For the next forty minutes or so, the Sangha (the Buddhist term for community) recite prayers, chant mantras and sit three separate ten-minute periods of meditation. The service concludes with a Dharma talk, and a few closing prayers. At the sound of drums and horns, the preceptors make their exiting procession and the service concludes.

ShrineRoom

A view of the main shrine room.

What you find in the Rime Center is a unique Buddhist experience. The entire order of service is provided in a bulletin, making it easy for seasoned practitioners and newcomers to follow along. Explanations and translations (some of the prayers and mantras are spoken in Tibetan) for every aspect of the service are found in the sidebars, one need not feel lost or confused. Toward the end of the service, announcements for upcoming classes and programs are made. During this time, the center preceptor will welcome visitors and invite them to introduce themselves. Lama Chuck makes a point to say it is his goal for the Rime Center to be the most welcoming spiritual community in Kansas City, and you certainly feel that this is a genuine sentiment. Congregants mingle and linger following the service, some visit the bookstore, while others have tea.

If you’ve ever wondered about Buddhism or meditation, the Rime Center is a great place to learn. For those of us raised in a Western religion, experiencing Eastern practices can be a little intimidating at first. But the Rime Center’s service includes enough familiar elements that one shouldn’t feel like a complete stranger in a foreign land (children have Dharma School during the service, and it’s okay if you slip up and call it Sunday School, I often do). The people are warm and friendly. For those with a bit more experience, it is a wonderful place to deepen your practice attending retreats and teachings by many of the visiting teachers.

So, there you have it, my first installment in this PLACES section of the blog. Questions? Feedback? Let me know in the comments section.

 

Planning a visit? Here are few things you might find helpful:

DRESS: Dress is modest but casual. Bear in mind you will most likely sit cross-legged on the floor; you’ll want to dress comfortably as most congregants do. Remember you’ll be leaving your shoes in the foyer.

CHILDCARE: The Rime Center has childcare for infants and toddlers as well as Dharma School for children ages 4 and up.

ADDRESS: 700 West Pennway, Kansas City, Missouri 64108

PARKING: There is ample parking on the street.

TIME: Sunday services begin promptly at 10:30, you will want to arrive at least five to ten minutes early (earlier if bringing children) and find a cushion. Service is usually over a little bit before noon.

WEBSITE: http://www.rimecenter.org/

Shrine

The shrine.